let's visit · On The Ranch · Personal

Questions From Suburban Middle-Schoolers

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It’s National Ag Week! A lot of this week is sharing more about what we do, and answering questions (even more than usual) and really spotlighting agriculture in the US. I’ve been majorly under the weather for a couple of weeks, but I’m glad to say that I’m starting to feel a bit better and so I wanted to share something really fun I got to be a part of!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to Skype in with two classes of middle school students who are taught by my 7th grade science teacher. One class was even in the same classroom where I learned about science in 7th grade! They are learning about the environment and photosynthesis and genes, and my teacher asked if I would talk a little bit about cows and the environment, and it was SO fun.

For those of you who don’t know, I grew up smack in the middle of suburban Denver. I could see a mall from my bedroom window (specifically Sears at Park Meadows Mall, if you’re familiar with Colorado.) I didn’t really see many cows until I was 21–other than weekends on a family friend’s ranch when I was young–and have no family members involved in agriculture. Whenever I get a chance to share about ag with anyone, and especially kids in town, especially kids from my own hometown, I get really, really excited. It’s so fun, and such a great experience. I thought I’d share some of the questions I got, because they were fantastic.

What would happen if we got rid of all the cows?
It would be bad. Rangelands evolved alongside grazing animals, and so without (well-managed) grazing, they would become unhealthy. Well-managed rangelands are more productive, healthier, and sequester more carbon. We’d likely have something similar to a dust bowl if we were to get rid of cattle. Not to mention, we would have a hard time meeting micronutrient requirements and protecting our current rangeland/open space from development.

Would it be a good idea for everyone to get a couple of cows?
Honestly? Probably not. Cows take up a lot of room, require a lot to eat and drink, and most people don’t have enough room to support a cow or two. Plus, they are really big, so can get to be expensive to feed and take care of. And, like all animals, cattle can require specialized care. But, that’s not to say that if you want to get some cows that you can’t have any! If you have the room, and learn how to take care of them, then go get you some cows. The average herd size in the US is 40, after all, so there are lots of people with a few cows. If you don’t have room for cows, though, maybe backyard chickens? Chickens can help with food waste, are kind of silly, and can be a fun way to learn more about raising animals!

Do cows make forest fires worse?
Nope! Cattle can actually help mitigate wildfire risk by grazing in forests and helping get rid of some of the dry matter and litter on the ground that can be a major fire hazard. Much of the increase in forest fires, in my opinion, is due to mismanagement of forests. There are too many trees too close together, lots of deadfall, too much dry matter, too much to burn. Cattle can help get rid of some of that stuff that can burn, and at least help fires be less intense!

How do cows stay warm when it’s really cold?
First of all, most cows suited to cold climates grow big fuzzy coats in the winter, so that definitely helps! It’s like a winter coat. Otherwise, we feed them extra in the cold since cows keep warm by eating more, and if it’s snowy or wet, we lay down hay, straw, or other bedding to help provide a barrier between them and the cold, wet ground. If it’s calving season, if it’s possible sometimes we’ll try to bring cows in to the barn or pens before they calve to help keep them warmer and drier, and if a calf gets too cold we’ll warm it up by putting it in the pickup, or in the barn, or in the laundry room, or wherever until it’s warm enough to go back to its mom.

How long can cows live in the cold?
A long, long time. All winter! We used to live in a place where it was so snowy we had to feed hay from October-April, and it regularly got to sixty below in the winter. We never once lost a cow to cold, but we did feed a lot of hay, and checked cows constantly in calving season, because baby calves are at the highest risk to freeze.

Is methane like pollution?
Methane isn’t like pollution in the sense of smog or exhaust. But it is a form of pollution, for sure! Cows aren’t the only (or the biggest) source of methane, though. Oil & gas production, landfills, and wetlands are also sources of methane.

My family lives near a place with cows. Their pasture is very boggy, and the water doesn’t look very clean. Is this bad for the cows?
Probably not, as long as they aren’t constantly hanging out in standing water. If cows’ feet stay too wet too long, they can get infections (foot rot). And, most pasture water is not going to look very clean, because it’s probably muddy and kind of icky, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad for the cows. Just because something doesn’t look clean doesn’t mean it’s dirty, you know?

My neighbors have some cows and some goats, but the cows ate all the grass so now the goats don’t have any to eat. What can they do?
(I’ll admit this question took me a bit by surprise, and I tried really, really hard to be tactful!) Well, the honest answer is to either a) get rid of some or all of the animals, or b) get more land. This is a pretty standard overgrazing situation: too many animals, not enough grass. So either you get rid of some animals or get more grass. You could lock them all in a pen and feed them hay, but that’s a short-term, expensive band-aid. Unfortunately, it can be really hard to regenerate overgrazed pastures, and why it’s not a good idea to just put a bunch of animals on some grass without knowing how many animals it can support and in what conditions. We saw a lot of this on the 40-acre ranchettes around where we lived in Colorado, especially with horses, and it frustrates me quite a bit.

How did you know you wanted to be a rancher instead of a lawyer? [I originally wanted to go to law school following undergrad–I even started studying for the LSAT!] 
I felt it in my heart. I just knew. It made me happier than studying law or my law internship (although that was so fun), and I am more suited to this lifestyle in most ways.

Can you take the GMOs out of milk?
Well, there aren’t GMO cows, and there is no GMO milk, so no, because there aren’t GMOs in the milk. If a dairy cow eats, say, some GMO alfalfa, those genes aren’t going to come out in the milk. She is going to metabolize that alfalfa just like she would any other foodstuff, and that energy is going to help her make milk. That being said, organic milk is milk from cows who were not fed any GMO feed, if that is something that concerns you. However (you knew this was coming), GMOs have been proven safe time and time again!

Are cows and horses similar?
Well, they both have four legs and eat grass, but that’s about it! Cows and horses are incredibly different, but play complementary roles on the ranch: horses help us work and move and care for our cattle more effectively, and the cow work helps keep the horses in shape and their minds sharp. Plus, it makes everything more fun!

let's visit · On The Ranch · Personal

Kindness in Beef Advocacy

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Do you ever have something you want to talk about, that stays on your heart and your brain for days, for weeks, maybe longer, but you never pull the trigger on hitting that “publish” button because you know that some people may not like what you have to say?

Today, I’m hitting publish (well, obviously, because you’re reading this). And, I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous!

Most of my advocacy happens in real life, or via interviews, or written articles, or on phone calls. I’m working on stepping up my game on social media because social media is just not where I shine, nor is it where I’m comfortable, but I know it’s a great way to help lots of people learn more about ag. Given recent happenings (and the current political climate, etc), I know that social media needs more kindness, and I want to be part of that.

I know that the majority of beef advocates truly want to help, want to answer questions honestly, truthfully, and kindly. Truly want to share, and invite in, and befriend, and just be stand-up people sharing their love and knowledge of what they do.

But there are others that enter this arena with a chip on their shoulder, with an idea that people are beholden to farmers and ranchers for feeding them, with a point to prove and not a kind word in their arsenal. That’s not advocacy. That’s being a bully. Yelling at people, calling them names, telling them they are ignorant for the questions they ask and the concerns they have about agriculture is not okay.

Listen, I know that people can be mean. I have been on the receiving end of some real doozies both in person and online, and once in front of a room full of hundreds of people. I get it. It chaps your butt, it gets your dander up, it makes you want to run for the hills or just get real mad. I’m not immune to wanting to hit someone on the head with a skillet. But, guess what: when people are being really, truly nasty, or you’re in a dead-end conversation, it’s okay to say “agree to disagree, thank you for commenting, have a nice day!” and stroll right on out of that conversation that is going nowhere. I’ve done that, too.

Most people aren’t that way. Most people are genuinely wanting to learn, wanting answers to their questions, and want to talk to someone who won’t treat them like they are dumb because they aren’t experts in the matters of cow digestion or GMOs. I grew up in town. I didn’t get involved with cattle until I was 21 years old. I’ve been the person who has no clue. I’m here on the ranch living this life and being a beef advocate because people helped, and spoke, and listened, and took the time to show me things and answer all my questions…and while I really believe there is no such thing as a dumb question, some of my questions got reeeeallllllll close. I’m here because people met me where I was, and never made me feel stupid. I guarantee it would have been a lot harder to keep going if folks had been unkind. Maybe I wouldn’t have. I don’t know.

Please be kind. Be a good experience. Be a helper, a connector, a light. Our message is heard so much better when it’s delivered kindly.

I also feel compelled to say this: be kind for yourself. I have seen some folks who do have a heart for ag, who have a platform, who are proud of what they do and are frustrated that writers, bloggers, politicians, and activists so often get our story (and the actual facts) wrong, but whose passion and knowledge is moot because of the way in which they deliver their message. It becomes overshadowed by the vitriol, and more’s the pity, because we need all the good help we can get.

Kindness doesn’t mean you’re selling your soul or being a doormat. It doesn’t mean you can’t stand your ground, or stand up for what’s right. It just means keeping your manners and integrity about you, and being tactful.

If you want to see how this works in real life, check out Terryn’s most recent post on FFB HERE and Brandi’s letter to Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez HERE.

let's visit · Personal

What I Learned When I Met USFRA in St. Louis

st louisimage source because I always forget to take decent pictures

I’m writing this sitting outside of the Starbucks at gate E18 in the St. Louis airport. It’s 6:15 in the morning, I’ve been up for about two hours, and an espresso frap has never tasted so good!

I’ve spent the last few days in St. Louis with the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance in training to become a Sustainability Officer, and I think I might sleep for a week when I get home (okay, except not because Bert’s been flying solo and that would be a very unkind thing to do to him) because I don’t think I’ve had this level of sustained excitement and human interaction since our wedding!
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I’ll talk more about what I’ll be doing as a Sustainability Officer in a future post, but while it’s still fresh, I wanted to express a few things I’m taking away with me from these past few days.

  1. We are all connected. Farmers, ranchers, food companies, consumers, and on and on. Sometimes we can get stuck in our own little industries, or feel like what we produce is very different from what someone else is doing, but that’s not the case. We’re all connected, and we should behave as such. I naively (stupidly?) thought that there’s no way I could share much with a soy farmer or even a dairy farmer outside of the very basic things, but oh how wrong I was.
  2. Sustainability is really, really complicated. It involves not only the practices on the ground on the farm or ranch, but it’s also being incorporated into marketing and business plans, and is a key part in consumers’ perceptions of our products and businesses, and consumers have high expectations for all of us in this area.
  3. We need to do better sharing our stories, but more importantly, we need to do better sharing our stories effectively, and remembering that the way we share our stories and the kind of information we provide changes depending on our audience. I’m putting together (another) future post about some things that resonate with certain audiences and other things that don’t–I was really surprised about some of these.
  4. We can always do better.
  5. We all have a stake in this. Everyone’s opinion has value. If you are reading this post, you have a voice in this conversation!
  6. This conversation is not going to be over any time soon. I hear a lot of “Sustainability is just a buzzword. Why are we still talking about this?” And maybe it was a buzzword at one time, but now it’s becoming a (hard to define but very real) thing that is taken into consideration all the way from farm to fork (to landfill/compost heap/the toy bin in your kid’s room where they stash weird little trash treasures). If we ignore it, we’ll get left behind and someone else will take our place or be our voice and we know that’s no good.

So. If you’re reading this, I don’t care who you are or how you feel about agriculture. I want to hear what you have to say because it’s important. Comment with how you feel about sustainability, or what you want to add to the conversation. Ask a question, tell me what you’re doing on your farm or ranch, let me know what you think is important for me to know!

 

Food · let's visit

Let’s Visit: How We Talk About Food

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Hi! It’s Wednesday! The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, the wind is blowing…just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.

So, let’s pretend we’re in my living room, and you’ve been a real pal and you’ve brought Starbucks with you because, well, you’re a real pal. We’re all comfy and just chatting away, okay? Hokay.

Today, I’m talking about something that’s not beef-specific, but is still a food thang. I thought of it this morning as I was making my morning cup of tea. I like a little caffeine and a lot of peppermint, so I use one bag of Bigelow’s Plantation Mint Green Tea, and one bag of Celestial Seasonings’ Peppermint. As I was pulling out the box of CSP, I noticed something that made me sad:

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Now, honestly, I try not to buy products with this seal, but I order lots of things on Amazon, and so I don’t see the actual product before I purchase and the pictures online don’t always show the most recent branding (not to mention I’ve been drinking this exact tea for over ten years because it’s my very very favorite). Also, the selection at rural grocery stores is often wanting for variation, and as more and more companies are choosing to brand their products this way, I don’t always have a choice. But branding is key here, because that’s all it is. More often than not, that little seal is a marketing tool. Why? It’s simple: there aren’t that many GMO crops, and I see this label on things for which GMO crops don’t exist. For example, on a quick perusal of my pantry, I found the following items with this seal:
Paprika
Cilantro
Fennel
Parsley
Quinoa
Salt (?!)
None of these have GMO counterparts, particularly salt since minerals have no genes to modify. So why on earth would they have a seal saying they are non-GMO? The same reason that products that don’t contain gluten and never have are branded “gluten-free”: marketing. And it makes me mad, because it doesn’t mean anything, but it imparts a message and is part of a greater campaign of fear-mongering in the way that we talk about and market food.

Think about all the terms we now use to describe food in this country: “guilt-free” means that we should associate guilt or shame with eating certain foods. “Clean” implies that other foods are dirty. “Cheat days” imply that we’re doing something bad by eating certain foods. Touting cleanses to rid the body of toxins imply that we are poisoning our bodies with the food we eat and obfuscates the function of the liver, which is actually responsible for ridding our bodies of toxins. “GMO-free” is supposed to make us feel better about what we’re eating, which implies that GMOs are bad.

I’m not saying this to condemn or judge the way people eat. I’m saying this because I don’t think we should let food companies or marketing firms influence our diets or our feelings about food. We, as consumers, should decide how and what we want to eat, with the help of our own doctors and healthcare team.

As far as GMOs go, there is no science (NO SCIENCE. As in NOT ANY) that shows that genetically-modified foods are harmful to our bodies or the environment. There is science, however, that shows that genetically-modified foods can help us feed the world by increasing yield and pest and drought resistance. There is science that shows that certain GMOs can fight malnutrition through added vitamins. Eating a genetically-modified apple is not going to be any different to your body that eating a conventional one.

(Well, it might be different to your toddler’s body because everyone knows that consuming—nay, even licking—a slightly browned apple slice will actual cause physical pain and harm to a three-year-old. (That was sarcasm there, guys, in case you didn’t catch it.)

The thing is, where this whacky marketing is concerned, food companies are only responding to what consumers say they want, or what they think consumers want. So, it’s time for us as consumers to help food companies understand that we don’t want fear-based or irrelevant marketing to become the norm in how we do food in this country (or anywhere). The best way to do that is to get to know our food and learn the truth about what’s in it for ourselves. Because, at the end of the day, companies are trying to sell us something to make more money, and it seems that there’s not much they won’t do to sway us to buy their product.

You know what I’m going to say next: ask a rancher. Ask a farmer. We know what we’re growing and have a whole lot more invested in it than just a paycheck. And instead of paying attention to fad diets, or Instagrammers, or the next gal that tells you surely you will die a toxin-filled death if you eat anything that’s not “clean”, paleo, and organic, listen to your own body, and talk to your healthcare team if you notice something that isn’t working for you. See how the foods you eat make you feel. We’re all different, and we all need a variety of foods to be our best selves.

By creating fear and misinformation about food, we are inhibiting the advancement and spread of technologies that could help us feed the world more efficiently. Many of us in this country are so lucky to have a huge array of food to choose from, but we can’t forget that not everyone in the world (or the United States) has that luxury. This fearmongering, misleading marketing, and holier-than-thou food shaming is such a privileged perspective to take about food when there are millions (billions?) of people hoping to just have enough food to stay alive.

So, let’s start changing the conversation about food. To start, #AskARancher! I’m right here!

 

Food · let's visit · On The Ranch · Personal

#AskARancher

let's talk about food

This is something that has been on my heart for a long time. And this is a long ole post, y’all, I know. In the future, though, I’ll be sharing short and sweet posts on my Instagram and I’ll try and keep the novels to a minimum.

All around us, in this age of the Internet, we are surrounded by information about everything. Which, you know, is really stinkin’ cool in a lot of ways. We’re so connected, and that’s something that I love because it helps me feel less isolated out here. But, there are a lot of things I, like a lot of people, don’t love about the Internet, and the at the top of my list is the misinformation spread by people who pretend that they know what they’re talking about.

Spoiler: they don’t always know. Not so much. I mean, come on, people are eating Tide Pods. It’s a crazy world out there, folks.

Unlike eating Tide Pods, eating food is important. It’s *literally* what keeps us alive. So, I understand the heated debates and the emotions that surround food and how it’s grown and made. But, it breaks my heart to see people being scared about the safety and quality of their food or how it was raised based upon information they found online, put there by someone who either a) has no idea what they’re talking about, b) might know what they’re talking about but has an agenda or is sponsored by a specific product or company, or c) is also just freaked out and is acting accordingly and sharing anecdotal evidence like it’s verifiable, evidence-based science.

And listen, I know there are lots of people online who are totally, 100% qualified to talk to you about your food, and I’m so glad. But to me, it feels like for every one of those, there are ten more who are the modern-day equivalent of medicine show guys with their bottles full of sugar and heroine. It seems like the very, very passionate voices on either end are drowning out the reasonable, voices in the middle, and that’s no good.

 

Please, I implore you, if you have a question about beef production, ask a (real) cattle rancher or farmer. If you have a question about fruits, vegetables, or other foods that grow out of the ground, ask a (real) farmer. If you have a question about the nutritional content of anything, ask a (licensed, non-biased, professional) nutritionist. If you are concerned that your diet is incomplete or that you are unhealthy, ask a (board-certified) doctor or consult a (registered, accredited) dietician. Use your best judgment to choose players for your team who are going to give you the best, most inclusive information. Do not turn to people sitting behind screens who harp upon the dangers or benefits of things they don’t know about, or who are peddling products or a lifestyle that doesn’t suit you. When you read articles, look for the science. Look for the proof. Look for the citations, and where they’re from. Learn about who’s doing the writing, and why. And if they are evangelizing their food choices to others to scare them, belittle them, or make them feel poorly about their own choices, I would choose to be wary of the information they are offering up.

However, wariness aside, I am absolutely not here to attack others. I am not here to tell you that you should eat beef, or what kind of beef you should eat. I’m here to show you that the people who raise your food are just like you. We are wives and husbands and parents and business owners and sports fans and Netflix enthusiasts and environmentalists and democrats and republications. We love our communities, and our people, and want to meet you and know you and welcome you into what we do, because you have a share in this, too. We love our jobs, and our ranches, and our farms, and our animals. And we want you to trust us, because this is our life’s work, and where our hearts live. It’s not a hobby, it’s not something we are merely passionate about. Growing food for you is what consumes our days, in one way or another.

I know we’re not usually the loudest voices on the internet. Part of this might be due to the work-intensive nature of agriculture, or our lack of reliable cell signal or internet.  Part of this might be due to the huge amounts of dollars some of the louder voices have behind them. And it’s scary to put ourselves out there because the internet can be a mean place, where people forget that we are all people deserving of dignity and respect. And sometimes it feels like we have a whole lot more to lose because this isn’t just a job, it’s our whole life. We don’t sit behind laptops in an office to further our agendas and then go home to our house that isn’t connected to our business. We live where we work, and the agriculture industry is already risky enough; it’s scary to open up and add more risk. I’ve had people that I know tell me, unequivocally, that I’m personally killing the planet and should be ashamed (I’m not and you cannot make me feel shame for my life, ps). I’ve had strangers tell me that I’m a bad mother for raising my children where and how I do. I’ve heard offensive and unspeakable things said to people that I respect and heard comparisons about what we do to what we do to the Holocaust (I’m not kidding, people are that classless and crass.) So it’s scary. But, you know, telling the truth is necessary, so we keep sharing, in the hopes that someone will listen to us instead of someone on Facebook sharing photoshopped pictures of animal abuse.

That’s why this blog is here. And guess what? This isn’t the only blog like this. There are piles of blog and Instagram accounts and YouTubers who share the real story of ag, and most of them don’t have an agenda. They just want to share, and to invite you into their lives and communities, and know that the more good, reasonable, smart, forward-thinking, kind voices we have in this community, the better.

You’ll find that most of these folks are like me: raising a family, raising beef, and proud to help feed the world. Here are just a few of the highly qualified folks that you can turn to about your beef, and food in general.

Buzzard’s Beat: Brandi is a wife, mama, rodeo-er, and all-around #girlboss who also happens to have a Master’s in Animal Science. She’s one of my favorite sources for no-nonsense insights into beef, even the hard stuff.

Girl Carnivore: Do you like meat? Do you want to know how to fix it and make it so delicious? Then head over to Kita’s site and get your fill of meaty goodness and gorgeous photography. This girl can grill. 

Cowgirl Boots and Running Shoes: Michaela is an ultrasound technologist-turned-fitness coach (among about ten other things) and she and her husband are raising their three children on her husband’s family farm and ranch in Nebraska. She’s my go-to for beef from a perspective of nutrition and fitness, and is so motivating!

Agriculture At Its Best: Mike has decades in so many aspects of the beef industry from livestock production and sales to 4H and the Extension Service. And, surprise, another Master’s!

Faith Family & Beef: Terryn and her family live in the Sandhills of Nebraska where they raise cattle and have an amazing pack of ranch dogs. She has a background in feeding cattle and shares what everyday life is like on a ranch in the Sandhills with three kids, and also has a ton of great recipes.

Meet Your Beef: Brooke is a fourth-generation rancher, and is also an animal health company territory manager and runs an amazing boutique (do you see the #girlboss theme here?).

Johnny Prime Steaks: Steakhouse reviews, killer photography, irreverent humor, and now a butcher shop. If you like steak–or food–at all, he’s your guy.

Arizona Beef Blog: This is the blog of the Arizona Beef Council. It showcases families and ranches from around the state to show how Arizona does beef. It’s run by Tiffany, who found a love a cattle through her love of horses.

The Circle L Ranch Blog: Naomi and her family raise cattle and horses, and also runs several businesses including a feed store and a rodeo production company. Another #girlboss who talks about everything from cooking to rodeo to parenting to ranch life, and features other dynamite women in agriculture.

Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom: Nicole and her family run a farm where they raise crops like wheat and soybeans as well as cattle. She shares recipes, stories, and what it’s like to run a diversified farm operation while being a mama.

Kellie For Ag: Kellie is another diversified farmer who raises crops and beef cattle in Iowa. She grew up in a farming family and has always wanted to be a farmer, and her passion and knowledge of the industry is plain!

Blessed by Beef: Tierra has an amazing story, and raises Angus cattle and bulls on her family’s ranch in Oregon. She’s also a photographer, and has a background in livestock marking.

Blue Eyes and Cow Pies: Kiah is a seventh-generation California cattle rancher (yes, seventh) who now lives and works in Kentucky. She knows her stuff, y’all.

Wag’n Tales: Val is a mama of four boys who farms crops and cows in North Dakota. She writes about everything under the sun, including what it’s like to be a farm mama to a little one with a serious medical condition.

Scott Stebner Agricultural Photography: Do you want to see some absolutely gorgeous photos? You do. You really, really do. His portraits move me to my soul. Head over to his site, you won’t be sorry.

Ag on the Forefront: Kelsey, her husband, and her son raise Red Angus cattle in Eastern Colorado. She’s another sharp-as-a-tack gal with a Master’s and has some amazing posts. I especially love her posts on animal welfare, and antibiotics.

The Truth About Ag: Michelle talks about some really hard things, and tackles head-on some of the most controversial aspects of ag. Her posts are well-researched and are a resource I often turn to, myself!

Dairy Carrie: Carrie and her family are dairy farmers in Wisconsin and I love her blog because she unflinchingly and very directly tackles some of the misinformation out there. I don’t know a ton about dairy (we raise beef cattle), but what I do know I’ve learned from reading her blog. It’s made me smarter!

Mom at the Meat Counter: Janeal (or Dr. Janeal as I refer to her in my head) is a bonafide meat scientist at the University of Arkansas. If you want to learn more about meat, she’s your gal, and a really excellent teacher and resource.

The Cow Docs: Jake and Carolyn are (mostly large animal) vets who also raise cattle. They blog about cow things, industry things, life things, food things…lots of things! But seriously. Two vets. With a blog. Check em out!

So, when in doubt, #AskARancher. #AskAFarmer.

let's visit

Let’s Visit: Hormones

Hi! Happy first day of the holiday season! Halloween’s over, so let’s talk Christmas!!!

I’m kidding. I’ll save that for a couple of days. Let’s talk about hormones, instead. Hormones are festive, right? Okay, not so much, but the holidays are coming up, and if you’re like many people I know, y’all are going to eat a lot of meat in the next couple of months between the turkeys, honey hams, rib roasts, and other festive fare.

Some folks like a good rack of lamb, but I am not one of those folks. Does anyone else think lamb tastes funny?

Anyways. A concern I often see cited, especially from parents, is added hormones in meat.

First off, why add hormones? Sometimes, a growth hormone implant is added to beef cattle because it helps produce leaner cuts of meat more efficiently by stimulating the animal’s pituitary gland to produce more of the animals own, naturally-occurring growth hormone called somatotropin. Adding certain hormones like estrogen and progesterone is a technology we have to increase efficiency (by 20%!) in our beef herd. Namely: more output (beef) for less input (feed). This way, we can produce more pounds beef with less natural resources.

Secondly, are they safe? Of course. Agricultural hormones have been approved and found safe by scientists all over the world, and the FDA has strict residue limits that are well below any amount that would have a known effect in humans. Hormones are never injected. They are administered in a slowly-dissolving tiny pellet (akin to melty beads, did you guys ever play with those?) that typically goes under the skin of the ear that breaks down once it’s done its job by delivering its message to the pituitary gland. And even though these amounts of added hormones are teeny-tiny, there are still stringent rules about residues and withdrawal times and the USDA tests for residues.

bulls in feedlot

That’s all great, but let’s talk numbers. Sometimes there is a misconception that when we give an animal a hormone implant, we flood that animal’s body with huge amounts of hormones to make them grow faster, and thus end up consuming vast amounts of extra hormones ourselves that can disrupt normal bodily functions or cause early development in girls*. Nope. That is 100% not how it works.

A common hormone implant called estradiol releases estrogen. But the amount of that estrogen is much smaller than you’d think!

  • Non-implanted beef contains .16 parts per billion, while implanted beef contains .22 parts per billion. So, not a big increase.
  • A 3 oz serving of eggs contains 78 times more estrogen than a 3 oz serving of implant-treated beef.
  • That same amount of tofu would deliver over 16,000,000 times more estrogen than that serving of beef.
  • A non-pregnant woman would have to eat 50,000 pounds of implant-treated beef in one day to equal the amount her body produces daily. A pregnant woman (whose body contains a lot more hormones would have to eat over 300 pounds of implant-treated beef which is a lot more than the “eating for two” calorie allotment, my friends.

Joan Ruskamp, a cattle feeder and mama (among many other things) came up with this amazing visual to show the relative amounts of hormones:

mms hormonesCabbage, peas, and potatoes all contain more hormones than the same size serving of implant-treated beef. Our bodies naturally contain many times more than that!

This is also a good time to chime in that all meat, like many other things we eat, is going to have hormones. So, if you see something advertised as “hormone-free”, yeah, that’s not a thing.

If a producer or feeder chooses to use hormone implants, he or she will work very closely with their veterinarian to find the right implant, dosage, and program that works for their animals.

If you want to read more, click here or here for posts by the Feedyard Foodie, here for a video from Joan, or here for a post by a very smart gal with a Master’s in Ruminant Nutrition.

*there is a point to be made here that while the culprit is not milk or meat, it could very likely be that our diets are now much higher in starches and sugars. Simple carbohydrates stimulate insulin production which sets off a chain reaction that ends up with the body producing more estrogen. Check out this blog post to learn a little more!

Happy Wednesday! The boys had a blast trick-or-treating last night, Bert and I had a blast meeting some new people in the area (um hi, making adult friends is hard, especially when you’re both basically hermits), and when we got home I uploaded my Christmas playlist to my phone so all is right in the world.

As always, I’m so happy to answer questions!!

let's visit

Antibiotics: Part 1

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Let’s pretend that we’re sitting somewhere cozy, with big comfy armchairs, and something delicious to sip on. Let’s say it’s chilly outside–precipiation is up to you–but there’s definitely some fall colors action. Got that in your head? Great.

Because today, we’re going to visit about…antibiotics.

Yep. Those little guys. You hear a lot about antibiotics in the fall because kids are going back to school, little ones are going to preschool for the first time, Dan’s got a cough that he brought to the office so now everyone is sick, the weather’s cooling down, life is getting busier. And on farm and ranches, calves are being born or weaned, depending on the ranch’s calving schedule, and many are getting shipped to new locations, and being on top of herd health is ever-important. Plus, cows can get the sniffles, too!

So, here are some things about antibiotics that I hear a lot, and some things about those things. I apologize, this post is on the drier side, but I can only drum up so much hilarity and sarcasm for something as science-y and important as antibiotics.

70% of all the antibiotic use in the US is in livestock. This is true. But, remember: a cow weighs a lot more than a human, even a really big human. So, they’re going to need more antibiotics. It’s all about scale here. You need more antibiotics than your kid, a cow needs more antibiotics than you.

Using broad-spectrum antibiotics causes antibiotic resistance. I talked to a vet about this, and the way he explained it was the it’s not broad- or narrow-spectrum that matters, it’s the efficacy of the antibiotic. If an antibiotic is not meant to treat pneumonia, we won’t use it to treat pneumonia. If a broad-spectrum antibiotic will effectively treat, say, pneumonia, foot rot, and pinkeye, we can use it on any one of those things and expect it to do its job safely.

Edited to add: a microbiologist friend (that I used to nanny–so proud of her!) pointed out that using antibiotics at all–in humans or animals–is going to contribute to antibiotic resistance. Reducing their misuse in both humans and livestock is an imperative, and one that we take very seriously. Thank you for helping me be more clear here, Rhodes!!

Livestock use the same antibiotics that people do, so this is where antibiotic resistance comes from. There are some antibiotics that we can use in livestock and humans–like penicillin–but the most commonly used class of antibiotics in cattle (tetracyclines) are the least commonly used in humans, and 71% of the antibiotics used in cattle are either not given to humans at all, or hardly used at all. 38% are outright not medically important to humans. In the rare instance when we do use drugs like penicillin, it’s because it’s the best choice to knock out the bug in question, which is in the best interests of everyone (see above).

In feedlots, cattle are fed antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and to help them grow. No, vaccinations are used to prevent disease, and carefully formulated rations are used to help them grow. When an animal becomes sick in a feedlot, it is pulled out of the pen by a penrider, treated by a vet, and not returned to the pen until it’s well. Seriously. Also, the phrase “mass-treating livestock” sounds terrible, so that’s why the media uses it. Sometimes, an entire pen will be treated in cases where something really nasty and contagious has happened (someone showing up to the office with strep and coughing on the donuts, anyone?) but cattle are not fed antibiotics for funsies or for growth. In fact, the FDA has come out with guidance eliminating medically-important antibiotics (antibiotics often used by humans, too) from being used as growth promotants in feed and water. The FDA is also in the process of moving medically-important drugs that were previously over-the-counter to needing a vet’s permission to use.

If you eat an animal that has been fed antibiotics, you’re eating them too. I talked about this a few weeks back, but I’ll reiterate: Nope. Nope nope nope. Not a thing.  Even if an animal was treated with antibiotics, you aren’t “eating” those antibiotics when you consume that meat. All antibiotics have withdrawal periods before an animal can be slaughtered to prevent residues from ending up in meat. USDA inspectors then test the carcasses at the packing plants to ensure that residual guidelines are strictly followed. There’s literally a National Residue Program for this, and programs for continuing producer education like Beef Quality Assurance. There’s also a publicly available list of producers who have more than one residue violation. It’s updated weekly, and the USDA will use it to take extra care to inspect meat from those producers. Cattle buyers also use it to know if any of their suppliers have residue problems so they can be extra vigilant or choose not to work with that supplier. It’s a big deal, y’all, and we take it very seriously.

Also: meat from animals not treated with antibiotics is not any healthier or safer for you to eat when compared to meat from animals that were treated with antibiodics. #science.

Antibiotics happen because other herd health management didn’t. Again, a resounding nope. Beef producers work very closely with vets and nutritionists to makes sure their herd is properly vaccinated and fed so they are in the best health they can be. Antibiotics happen because an animal got sick, despite our best efforts, and we need to help it get better because that’s the right thing to do. We all know that, no matter how hard we try, we sometimes get sick and need medicine. Cattle are the same. Also: did you know that producers often give a probiotic in addition to an antibiotic, especially to young animals? It’s the truth. Someone dared me to eat some once, buuuuut I didn’t. #fraidycat #notacalf

Basically, guys, we treat animals when they’re sick. It’s the right thing to do. If you see meat that is labeled as never having had antibiotics, that does not mean the animal was better or worse cared for than an animal that was given antibiotics, or that is it better or worse for you or for the environment. Sometimes it’s luck (or lack thereof), sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes it’s an animal’s immune system, sometimes it’s something else. Full stop.

That will do it for Part 1! It’s kind of a big subject.

More resources here, here, and here.